Louis Mazzante, test director for Hearst Enthusiast Group, which includes Bicycling magazine, Center Valley, Pennsylvania. Bicycling.com
The popular Peloton indoor exercise bikes provide remote access to fitness-club spin classes from the safety of home. But the $1,895 price (down from $2,245) plus the $49 monthly subscription fee is a lot to pay to pedal a stationary bike. The newest model, the Bike+, will cost even more—$2,495. But it’s possible to create an engrossing indoor riding experience and stay in shape for a lot less, especially if you already own a stationary bike or a conventional outdoor bike. Here’s how…
Subscribe to an App
There are a number of indoor-cycling apps that offer benefits similar to the Peloton membership for a lot less—simply position a digital device running one of these apps in front of a stationary bike. You can use the screen-mirroring function available on some phones and tablets or a screen-casting device such as Google Chromecast to display the phone or laptop screen on a smart-TV screen.
Zwift lets you pedal your indoor bike on a wide array of virtual outdoor rides—cross deserts, climb volcanos, explore a futuristic version of New York City and much more. You can ride with friends, compete in races or join classes with coaches and—if you have compatible equipment (see below)—Zwift will track performance data such as your speed, distance and heart rate. You also can use Zwift while running on a treadmill. $14.99/month. Zwift.com
The Sufferfest uses licensed footage from past events such as the Tour de France to put you right in the middle of world-class races. With compatible equipment, it will track your performance, including basics such as heart rate and speed plus advanced measurements such as neuromuscular power and anaerobic capacity. It also offers on-screen coaching tips. Strength-training and yoga classes are available on the app as well. $14.99/month. TheSufferfest.com
Peloton Digital offers access to the exact same celebrity-instructor–led spin classes and vibrant virtual biking community that Peloton owners receive through their memberships—but for less than one-third of the monthly membership price. In addition to spin classes, there are yoga and strength-training classes and more. But unlike with full Peloton membership—or with either of the previous apps—the Peloton Digital app won’t communicate with your exercise equipment to provide onscreen performance stats such as your speed and distance covered, and the instructor won’t be able to monitor your performance. $12.99/month. OnePeloton.com/app
Convert A Bike to Indoor Use
A “trainer” converts an outdoor bicycle into an indoor stationary bike by holding the rear end of the bike off the ground and providing resistance. If your goal is to create a Peloton-like experience, purchase a “smart” trainer, which connects wirelessly to a bike-training app on your phone, tablet or other digital device. Two types worth considering, both are compatible with apps including Zwift and The Sufferfest…
With a “direct drive” smart trainer, the bike’s rear wheel is removed. By pedaling, you spin a flywheel that’s part of the trainer. These systems usually are quiet and can adjust resistance levels automatically when a rider pedals up or down virtual hills in a compatible indoor-cycling app or when your workout calls for more effort. They cost much less than the Peloton, but they’re not inexpensive. Recommended: Wahoo Fitness KICKR Core Bike Trainer, $900.
With a “friction” smart trainer, the rear wheel remains on the bike and turns a resistance-providing cylinder. These tend to be affordable but loud. The rider must shift gears to adjust resistance levels—this won’t happen automatically when there’s a virtual hill in a biking app. Recommended: Kinetic Road Machine Smart 2 Bike Trainer, $299.
A Few More Details
To complete the experience…
Point a fan at the bike. Aim it so the airflow is directed at your torso as you ride. It keeps you from overheating.
Put a yoga mat under the bike. This will absorb some of the bike’s noise and keep sweat off the floor.
Wear a heart-rate monitor. These wirelessly track your heart rate through a biking app. Recommended: Wahoo Tickr, $50, is comfortable and compatible with Zwift, The Sufferfest and Peloton apps. Or if you own a watch or other wearable device that tracks your heart rate, use that instead.